Self-care means giving yourself permission to pause.
The buzz of everyday school life can easily have us running around without much focus. In my role as a teacher leader and instructional coach who travels to different buildings within our district, my days are filled with voices, questions, and concerns.
Every day is different, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed. I enjoy working with people, and I’m outspoken and highly engaged wherever I am. But I’m also an extrovert with introvert tendencies, which for me means that I need alone time to recharge and refocus.
In a world of high demands and a variety of voices, I can’t help but ask, “How are we renewing our thoughts as educators every day?” Here are a couple of things I have learned and tried throughout the years. I understand that when it comes to self-care and renewal, consistency is the key. But I also understand that just having a set of tools to draw from helps me understand what to do when I start feeling crowded with thoughts.
The Note app on my phone has become one of my favorite tools. Not only does it serve as a great ongoing to-do list, but I can also organize information in folders that I can access anywhere. I like to add to this folder powerful statements from professionals I admire. Recently, I added this one to my repertoire:
Our kids aren’t going to outgrow us. If we want our kids to get better, we have to get better ourselves. —Cornelius Minor
Such a powerful reminder from Mr. Minor that as educators we are always becoming and that we must continue to grow professionally.
Another powerful quote I currently have is from Justin Talbot-Zorn and Leigh Marz, who were inspired by the work of Ta-Nehisi Coates: Generating good ideas and quality work requires something all too rare in modern life: quiet.
This particular quote has served me many times when coaching teachers. I must respect their quiet and processing time. They deserve it.
Visual Reminders of Strength
In my cloud folder, I keep an album of photos of students who inspire me to do this work daily. Some of them are photos from former students who remind me that they show up every day despite the work being difficult. Other photos are of current students who are keeping me curious about teaching and learning.
Whenever I receive a card or a letter from a student, I take a photo and add it to this album. It reminds me that someone does notice what we do, that what we do matters. I also like to keep a pocket chart in my office or in my classroom to add any thank-you cards or notes I might receive throughout the year from other staff. It lifts me up to reread those cards. Every time.
Disconnect for Five Minutes
I have learned this strategy from a colleague who goes on a walk around the school every day (yes, even in winter). I would often sit in my office and, from my window, see her taking a relaxed walk around school. No music, no headphones, no cell phone, no distractions. I decided to try this myself. Even if it just meant that I would sit outside and catch some sun for five minutes. It didn’t cost me anything. I didn’t have to change schedules for it to happen.
In no time, I learned that those five minutes provided me with the calm and clarity I sometimes needed. Some days I just sat in my car and listened to my favorite song.
These three simple tools have helped tremendously during the year. There were times when I felt overwhelmed with other teachers’ voices. I couldn’t hear my own. And that bothered me.
There were other times when a situation with a child tested my patience and I needed to remind myself why I was in his or her life. Other times an extra five minutes of sun just kept me grounded and reminded me that people are just people.
Renewing my thoughts daily is my responsibility, because there will always be noise, questions, concerns, or just simply complaints that take away any calm or serenity I had first thing in the morning. I can’t control what happens, but I can choose what to do when those moments arise.